We investigated the effects of tempol (4-hydroxy tempo), a membrane-permeable radical scavenger, on gentamicin-induced renal failure in rats. The rats were given gentamicin (100 mg/kg/day, i.p., once a day); and gentamicin (100 mg/kg/day, i.p.) and tempol (3.5, 7 or 14 mg/kg/day, i.p., once a day). At the end of 7 days, the gentamicin group produced the remarkable nephrotoxicity, characterized by a significantly decreased creatinine clearance and increased serum creatinine, blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and daily urine volume when compared with controls. In control the BUN value was 21.2 +/- 0.07 (mg/100 mL); in comparison, it was 96.9 +/- 6.03 in gentamicin group (P < 0.05). Renal histopathologic examination confirmed acute tubular necrosis in this group. In rats treated with gentamicin and tempol a partial improvement in biochemical and histologic parameters was observed. BUN values were 96.9 &PLUSMN; 6.03 and 36.3 &PLUSMN; 2.39 in gentamicin, and gentamicin plus tempol (14 mg/kg) treated groups, respectively (P < 0.05). These results suggest that the administration of tempol may have a protective effect on gentamicin-induced nephrotoxicity in rats.